Author Archives: Monica

Dharma Dialogue Spins Off

Spin off Blogs by Dharma Dialogue contributors.

Spin off Blogs by Dharma Dialogue contributors.

It’s finals week here at University of the West and the contributors of Dharma Dialogue have been busy completing their final projects.  Please look for some of them to be adapted and appear on the blog over winter break.  Classmates are working on papers, infographics, story collecting, and even websites of their own.  In latter case, we have three exciting spin off blogs to announce.  It appears some of our contributors have enjoyed blogging so much, they’re going to attempt to take it up as a habit.  Please check out their wonderful blogs and continue to check back at Dharma Dialogue: Buddhism in the U.S. for ongoing posts.  Although the class is over, the contributors were unanimous in their desire to keep the blog alive.  Look for exciting contributions from other members of the UWest family in the months ahead.

Family Dharma is “Practicing in the midst of life” thanks to Joseph and Sarit Rogers.  Per the site:

Joseph Rogers is a group facilitator, trained under Noah Levine, with Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society.  He is also a Masters of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy candidate at University of the West under the supervision of Reverend Danny Fisher.  He currently teaches meditation to at risk youth, and co-facilitates the weekly young people’s group at ATS Santa Monica.

And

Sarit is a photographer specializing in fine-art portraiture, creative commercial photography, and  lifestyle photography primarily made up of musicians, yogis and the occasional pinup. …Sarit writes for Visions Teen, covering a wide array of issues surrounding addiction, recovery, mental health, adolescence, and parenting. She also has a blog of her own dedicated to her photography. Some of her most inspired subjects is the integration of mindfulness, breath, yoga, and meditation into family and recovery.

Their blog will seek to explore 1) Buddhism in America as a minority religion, 2) Family in Buddhist practice, 3) Lay practice in American Buddhism, 4) Relationships out of context, and 5) Finding time for formal practice.  Also, read Joseph’s first post on Dharma Dialogue if you haven’t already.

Path of Pleasure is “Using the Jhanas on the Buddha’s path to awakening” with classmate Buddhakaruna.  He describes himself and the blog this way:

I practice the jhanas as taught by Ayya Khema and Leigh Brasington. These are often called the sutta jhanas to distinguish them from the Visuddhimagga jhanas, which may be an entirely different creature from what I practice (a form of cessation?).

I also may discuss my experience as a Master of Divinity student at the University of the West, an accredited Buddhist University in Los Angeles. This degree will allow me to be a professional interfaith chaplain.

My hope is that blog will help those interested in, or currently practicing the jhanas to awaken themselves. There are so few of us relative to the dry-Vipassana practitioners that it is often difficult to connect and share our experiences.

Recent posts discuss self-compassion and fear.  Also check out Buddhakaruna’s earlier discussion of jhanas on Dharma Dialogue.

The Monkey King is “Taming the monkey mind in the Dhukka jungle” from Dancing Yellow Monkey.  This is a collaborative blog and a place for story telling and experience sharing, so please join in the conversation.

Welcome to the digital hub for a new generation of young adult practitioners of the Dharma.

This is a place for young adult Buddhist practitioners and scholars to share their experience as a person of color in the U.S.  Writings about one’s personal practices, relationships, work, parenting, social action, or various topics related to Buddhism in the U.S. are greatly encouraged. I invite you to share your experience.

This is a site for you. Please share your personal essays, poems, screenplays, short stories, art, photography, and video. Let your voice be heard!

Also, please read Dancing Yellow Monkey’s first post about young people of color in American Buddhism on Dharma Dialogue.

Finally, I shall continue to help edit and contribute to the blog along with our fearless leader, Dr. Jane Iwamura, Chair of Religious Studies at University of the West.  You can read more about my adventures at Dharma Cowgirl.  We hope you will keep following Dharma Dialogue, commenting, and contributing to the growing conversation about Buddhism in the U.S.

Post by Monica Sanford.

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Another ‘Lonely’ White Chick With a (Buddhist) Blog

“Lord Buddha on TV in front of two monitors,” by Wonderlane via Flickr.com

Buddhism in the 20th and 21st Centuries has taken on a new medium, perhaps its first new medium since the introduction of television a century ago. That new medium is the internet, a connective web born from a U.S. Department of Defense research initiative in the 1960’s.  So one could say that digital Buddhism is, in a way, American Buddhism.

Of course, the internet is now no more American than the printing press is Chinese. Scott Mitchell, in his MA thesis for GTU, argues that the internet, by it’s nature, is a tool for 1) democratization and anti-authoritarianism and 2) commercialism and the growth of passion/greed, both of which are, in a sense, “anti-Buddhist.” A very interesting theory. Regardless, one could also argue it is a global tool which reflects the character of its users to at least some degree. It is that subject I wish to explore.

In that sense, although the internet is no longer uniquely American, it is rather dominated by the English language, which accounts for 57% of all websites.  What’s really interesting, though, is that English speaking users only account for 27% of the people on the internet.  The next largest user group is Chinese, at 24%, but only 5% of the internet is written (or spoken) in Chinese, according to W3Techs (W3 is the international consortium that standardizes web programming language, so they’re pretty reliable).  In fact, according to Internet World Stats, Asia accounts for 45% of all internet users, while North America comes in at a piddly 12%.

Given the language dominance, it’s no surprise then that we see a dominance of English-language Buddhist blogs.  In fact, when you translate the phrase “Buddhist blogs” into Asian languages (using Google Translate) and do a web search with the translation, the number search results in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi, and Tamil combined don’t even amount to half of the 79.6 million search results for the English-language phrase. (This is a highly unscientific study, which would get you a solid “F” in any academic paper, but I still think it’s interesting.)

The other factor which may be contributing to this market dominance is what we might call “market penetration.”  Internet use among North Americans was 79% in 2011, according to Internet World Stats.  So more than three out of four people you know (if you’re North American) are on the internet.  It is similarly high in Australia/Oceania at 66% and at 61% among Europeans.  In contrast, Asia is much closer to the world average (33%), with just 26% of all Asians having internet access.

So what does it mean for the character of “digital Buddhism” when the vast majority of practicing Buddhists aren’t contributing?

Every technological revolution in history has spread unevenly, with the most affluent societies leading the way – from the mastery of fire to the fires of industry – from the transportation revolution of the 20th Century to the telecommunications revolution of the 21st Century.  This uneven spread of technological revolution has a nasty history of cultural hegemony (word of the day!) and even outright war, colonialism, and enslavement.

But we’re Buddhists, so we should be better than that, right?

Well, the Angry Asian Buddhist doesn’t think so.  He points out in his blog that

…it’s common parlance among English speaking American Buddhists to use the term American Buddhist or Western Buddhist to refer to White people—or at the very least at the exclusion of American Buddhists of Asian heritage. I can certainly concede that the prototypical “American” in the media is a White American—but I hold the American Buddhist community to a higher standard. Especially since most American Buddhists are not White.

The rhetoric which has led to the normalization of the “American Buddhist” as a white convert has also led to the exclusion of Asian American Buddhist voices from the table, according to AAB.

They are angry when they hear people write about the history of Buddhism in America without reference to the hundreds of thousands of Buddhist Asian Americans who have been and who continue to be the greatest part of American Buddhism. Who will speak out for them when they’re ignored? Who will stand up to let them know they’re not alone?

That’s why I’m the Angry Asian Buddhist.

Does he have a point?  I think so.

A quick Google search of “Buddhist blog” will show what I mean in the top 10 search results.  Three are themselves lists of the “best Buddhist blogs,” but those which are personal blogs have a distinct flavor.  Only one is operated by a person(s) of Asian decent, while the other six are quite obviously white folks (four guys and two gals).  Results 11 through 20 are little better, a few personal blogs, a few group blogs (still dominated by white folks), and one Asian person’s blog. (Please note: This evidence is cursory and far from conclusive.  However, if that’s what I find in a cursory search, it’s what others will find in a cursory search. Consciously or unconsciously they may draw certain conclusions from the results.)

Does it matter?  Or am I just race-baiting here?

This is where it gets personal.  I have a blog dedicated to Buddhism.  And what am I? A white chick.  So am I contributing to the white digital Buddhism dominance?  Maybe.  That’s not why I started blogging, but you could say the two are related.

I started blogging as a way to reach out to other Buddhists.  As a white chick living in a very white part of the country, surrounded by Christians and hemmed in by cultural homogeneity, there simply weren’t very many other Buddhists for me to talk to.  Those I found were often as lost and clueless as I was, relying on books and the occasional retreat at a distant meditation center to try to build a sangha-less practice.  So I used the internet to reach out.  And I found that there were a lot of other lone Buddhists who were also reaching out – and most of them were like me.  Go figure.

In fact, there is actually research to show my anecdotal experience is not even remotely unique.  A study by Ostrowski in 2006 (in Contemporary Buddhism, volume 7) found that a third (33%) of people looking for Buddhism on the internet did so because they didn’t have the ability to become involved with teachers or sanghas in real life.  A further fifth (20%) turned to the internet simple because it’s convenient.  (Nor is this phenomenon unique to the United States.  Kim found similar behavior in 2005 among urban Koreans due to the fact that most Buddhist temples in Korea are located in rural areas.  However, Korea may be a unique case in Asia.)  Ostrowski found that people using the internet to learn about Buddhism were overwhelmingly white (72%) and over half (53%) had been raised as Christians. Yet despite their obvious interest, three-quarters (74%) were not members of a Buddhist center – just like me.

So why is that?  Is geography really so powerful?  What about white converts who live in big cities with lots of temples?

Even in large cities, where Buddhists can gather and build temples and centers, those of us who are converts  to Buddhism tend to continue living in our culture of origin.  So while we may be able to build a sangha, that sangha is spread out and geographically diluted.  Rarely are our sangha-mates also our physical neighbors, let alone family.  And we tend to build sanghas with those who have similar experiences to ourselves, people with whom we can relate.  This may explain not just some of the unfortunate racial segregation in American Buddhist sanghas, but some of the socioeconomic segregation as well.  It’s no wonder Buddhists of color, Buddhist women, and LGBTQ Buddhist retreats have become so popular.  Everyone wants that experience of mutual empathy only a shared background can bring.

In many ways, I think the Asian American sanghas have an advantage.  I live in a mixed Latino/Asian immigrant neighborhood.  The Vietnamese Buddhist temple three blocks from my house is supported and patronized by the Vietnamese families who live in my neighborhood.  In contrast, my fellow convert Buddhists frequently drive long distances to their centers.  The Chinese temple I sometimes visit on Sundays is patronized by the Chinese families who live in its surrounding neighborhood and practice Tai Chi and Qi Gong and tennis in the park next door.  When I see them, I always think how nice it must be to have fellow Buddhists all around you like that.  Perhaps if I had that feeling, I wouldn’t see the need to reach out to other lonely Buddhists on the internet. (Perhaps not.  I’m kinda a geek.)

Now, you might ask, “Why don’t you go to the Vietnamese temple? Or make friends with the people at the Chinese temple?”  It’s a fair question.  After two and a half years of living in such proximity to so many wonderful Buddhist resources, the more I learn about Asian culture, the more I come to appreciate how truly different they are from my own.

I’m becoming more and more aware that Asian American Buddhists look to their temples and sanghas differently than I do.  I come loaded with Protestant presuppositions about the role religion should play in one’s life, presuppositions which look very different from how Asian and Asian American Buddhists actually engage with Buddhism. (At least, according to Wendy Cadge and Carolyn Chen, as well as my own ignorant observations.)   When I left the United Methodist Church at the age of 15, I created a gap in my pscho-social life that I’ve been trying to fill, consciously or unconsciously, ever since.  So trying to engage with an Asian American sangha on my terms is unlikely to leave me feeling fulfilled.

I also worry that the presence of an outsider like me would not be entirely welcome.  That may just be my projection, but it creates a strong anxiety.  Finally, I don’t speak the language and that’s a huge barrier.  I appreciate different cultures, but I’m too intimidated to try to scale that wall just yet.  At least, not while I still have the internet.

In fact, the very notion that I could fill in the gaps in my relationships and connections by reaching out online may be a product of my upbringing. I have noticed a curious reluctance in my Asian classmates and coworkers to do business and communicate via the internet that may speak to deeper cultural biases, my own as much as theirs.  It may well be that white, middle-class Americans are simply more comfortable with the internet.  Just like my Asian friends are more comfortable with chopsticks.  (Stereotypical, I know.  Please forgive me and remember I looked stupid trying to use chopsticks for a very long time.)

In conclusion, my personal experience (backed by a modicum of research) leads me to believe that Asian and Asian-American Buddhist voices on the internet are not being intentionally excluded or ignored at any systematic level (although certain projects or sites may be in need of scrutiny).  The internet is rather brilliant in that it has a very low barrier to entry (Scott’s criticized democratization).  Literally anyone can get a blog (myself, case in point) with even the most limited of resources.  Of course, not being ignored is a far cry from being heard and an even greater distance from being heeded.

However, my experience attending an ecumenical Buddhist-founded school, where I am exposed to a plethora of Asian, Asian-American, and “American” (white, black, brown, and rainbow) Buddhist voices also leads me to conclude that “digital Buddhism” is not an accurate representation of Buddhism.  It’s skewed and biased, lacking broader perspectives and concerns which are valid and valuable.  With such a large demographic chunk of Buddhists under-represented, it must be.  I want to see more Buddhist bloggers of all backgrounds sharing their experience and teachings in the medium to which I typically go to find those teachings.  And I honestly think we’ll get there, but it’s going to take effort.  That’s why I’m so delighted that this blog will feature the voices of my fellow students, who are most assuredly not all white chicks like me.

Post by Monica Sanford

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Exploring the Digital Face of Buddhism

Buddhist Websites

While a great many studies, articles, and books have been published about Buddhism in America, both as a whole and from the perspective of specific Buddhist communities, scholarship on digital Buddhism is far behind the curve.  Charles Prebish has authored a few articles, the Buddhist Geeks podcast has covered the internet-based work of various teachers, and there are a few graduate theses and dissertations in recent years (see Bibliography).  But this is nothing compared to the in-depth monographs and quality anthologies about other aspects of American Buddhism.  Perhaps this is because Buddhism on the internet is a moving target, as with all things web-based.  Therefore, rather than summarize a batch of academic papers which were out of date within a month of printing, I would like to challenge my classmates and readers of the blog to help construct the digital face of Buddhism today.

It’s simple.  Below I have posted my five favorite Buddhist websites.  In the comments, please tell us about five other awesome Buddhist websites without duplicating what’s gone before.  I know that may be a hard task, so the sooner you comment, the easier it will be to find a Buddhist website or blog which hasn’t been listed yet.  If you feel like being an overachiever, you can even tell us why you like these sites and how you use them in your study and practice.  Otherwise, just list them.  Here are mine:

Monica’s Favorites

  • Buddhanet – Buddhanet was there for me when I was just a baby Buddhist blogger trolling the internet for things I didn’t even know how to pronounce.  They have a wonderful set of resources on both Theravada and Mahayana teachings as well as a global directory of Buddhist centers.
  • Access to Insight – This has lately become my go-to source for the Pali suttas and commentary from Theravada teachers.  In addition to a large portion of the Tripitaka available in English translation, it frequently provides multiple translations of a single sutta for comparison, as well as collections of sutta verses and/or discourses on various topics, such as stress (dukkha) or jnana (meditative absorption).  Most articles have been published elsewhere in print and are entirely suitable for citation in academic papers.
  • Dhamma Talks – A great collection of audio recordings from Metta Forrest Monastery, a Theravada center in an avocado grove just outside Escondido, California.  In addition to both long and short daily talks by the abbot, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the site also hosts beautiful recordings of Pali chants by the resident monks and their texts and translations.  I highly recommend the chants and guided meditations.
  • Wikipedia’s Buddhism Portal – The Buddhism Portal on Wikipedia is a handy place to get started when exploring any topic in Buddhism for the first time.  I find it pretty reliable.  Of course, it is Wikipedia, so read critically and always check the citations.
  • My Google Reader RSS Feed – I subscribe to a number of Buddhist blogs and news feeds using Google Reader, which delivers all their content to one spot.  This includes: American Buddhist Perspective, Angry Asian Buddhist, Buddhist Geeks, New Books in Buddhist Studies, Off the Cushion, Wildmind Buddhist Meditation, and more.  If you have a Gmail account, setting up a Google Reader feed is easy and convenient.  It’s a good way to keep up with your favorite Buddhist bloggers (like me?).  If not Gmail, their are a number of other RSS aggregaters out there to choose from.

(Yes, I know, that brings me to more than five.  What’s in your RSS feed? Tell us. We’d like to know.)

If you want to read more about the history of Buddhism online, you can check out some of the resources I unearthed listed below.

Bibliography

Connelly, Louise. Aspects of the Self: An analysis of self reflection, self presentation, and the experiential self within selected Buddhist blogs. Doctoral dissertation for the University of Edinburgh, 2011.

Fenn, Mavis. “Teaching Buddhism by Distance Education: Traditional and Web-Based Approaches.” Teaching Buddhism in the West. Hori, Victor Sogen, Hayes, Richard, and Shields, Mark J. eds. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2002.

Greider, Brett. “Academic Buddhology and the Cyber-Sangha: Research and Teaching Buddhism on the Web.” Teaching Buddhism in the West. Hori, Victor Sogen, Hayes, Richard, and Shields, Mark J. eds. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2002.

Hayes, Richard. “The Internet as a Window onto American Buddhism.” American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship. Williams, Duncan Ryuken and Queen, Christopher S. eds. Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon Press, 1999.

Mitchell, Scott A. Indra’s Cyber Net: The Impact of the Internet on the Development of American Buddhism. Master’s thesis for the Graduate Theological Union, Berkley California, October 2002.

Prebish, Charles. “The Cybersangha: Buddhism on the Internet.” In Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.
Edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. New York: Routledge, 2004, pp. 135-147.

Prebish, Charles. “Indra’s Net and the Internet,” Religious Studies News, 10, 1 (February, 1995), 14, 41. Co-authored with Wayne Husted and Damien Keown.

Post by Monica Sanford

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Continued Reading About Buddhism in the U.S.

As previously mentioned, the class which is linked to this blog has continued apace and additional reading materials have been assigned.  They are listed below in a sort of thematic order.  Most are shorter journal articles used to supplement the original book list.  You may need a library subscription (either academic or public) to access some of them, but a simple web search should find a good many.  Happy reading!

  • “Religious Oppression” by Joshi, Khyati Y. in New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity in Indian
  • An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by Suzuki, D.T.
  • “Zen” article in Time magazine (1957)
  • “Profiles: Great Simplicity” by Sargeant, Winthrop in New Yorker, 31 Aug 1957.
  • “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” by Watts, Alan in Chicago Review, 1958.
  • “Wondrous Activity” by Okamura, Mihoko in A Zen Life: D.T. Suzuki Remembered
  • “Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism” by Hickey, Wakoh Shannon in Journal of Global Buddhism
  • “What is Zen?” by D.T. Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Buddhism (1959)
  • “Pagan Temples in San Francisco” by Masters, Frederick J.
  • “The Shallowness of Cultural Tradition” by Fei, Xiaotang
  • “‘Democracy According to the Buddhist Viewpoint’: American Buddhism and Buddhist Americanism” by Pierce, Lori A.
  • “Life a Dream, Like a Fantasy”  by Senzaki, Nyogen
  • “From Pearl Harbor to 9/11: Lessons from the Internment of Japanese Buddhism” by Williams, Duncan
  • “‘Beyond This World of Transiency and Impermanence’: Japanese Americans, Dharma Bums, and the Making of American Buddhism during the Early Cold War Year” by Masatsugu, Michael K. in Pacific Historical Review
  • “Immigrant Religious Adaptation: Vietnamese American Buddhists at Chua Viet Nam” by Do, Hien Duc and Mimi Khuc
  • “Racial Diversity in Buddhism in the U.S.” by Dugan, Kate & Hilary Bogert
  • “El Latinismo y sus Bellos Colores; Voices of Latina and Latino Buddhists” by Zubizarreta, Rosa
  • “Coming out in the Sangha: Queer Community in American Buddhism” by Corless, Roger
  • “Carry the Dharma in Español” by Sagbien, Julia
  • “Moving toward an End to Suffering” by               Jones, Marlene
  • “Family Life and Spiritual Kinship in American Buddhist Communities” by Prebish, Charles in American Buddhism as a Way of Life
  • “Buddhism and the Child in the United States” by Gross, Rita in Children and Childhood in American Religion
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Dharma Dialogue Featured on American Buddhist Perspective

I am happy to report that our little blog has been featured on fellow Buddhist blog American Buddhist Perspective hosted by Patheos, a blog service devoted to religion.  ABP is written by Justin Whitaker, a native of Montana who is “currently working on a Ph.D. in Buddhist Ethics at Goldsmiths-University of London.”

Justin ladles both praise and criticism for our short lists of posts, all of which is worth reading and considering.  One critique however, can be quickly addressed:

One of the things I noticed that was unfortunate is the anonymity of the people creating each post. It would be nice if each person gave, if not their name, then at least some background, for example: “authored by “Tim,” a 27 year old Ohio native, world traveler, and former business student who is now a Tibetan practitioner (of 4 years) and studying chaplaincy at U West.”

Sorry to say, Justin, this template is kinda weird.  The name of the author of each post is not displayed on the main page, but if you click on the post title itself, the author’s name is displayed on the sub-page.  I am looking for a fix.  Also, some classmates were hesitant to put themselves out there right off the bat, so their anonymity is being protected.  However, future posts will feature either the name or chosen internet handle of the post author in the body of the text.  In the meantime, if you scroll to the bottom of the blog, you can see a list of authors.  If you mouse over their gravatar image, you can view their profile.  A quick click on any of them will display the blog posts they’ve authored.  A list of author bios is being added to the About This Blog page, but only on a voluntary basis.

So thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, thanks for keeping us sharp, and please come back again.

Post by: Monica Sanford.

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About This Blog

Beyond the Ivory Tower

This blog begins as a discussion space for a graduate-level course about Buddhism in the U.S.  However, we hope it will become a public space for discussing the past, present, and possible future of Buddhist history and practice in the United States.  This course is being taught by Dr. Jane Iwamura at University of the West in Rosemead, California.  Dr. Iwamura and her students will be posting here regularly about topics being raised in the class.  Comments are welcome and encouraged both from enrolled students and the general public.  Please, tell us what you think!  What does Buddhism in the U.S. look like to you?

Ground Rules for Happy Blogging

We hope this blog can remain a safe space and while we encourage lively discussion, debate, and even disagreement, please respect your fellow commentors.  Although anonymous comments are allowed to protect the safety and privacy of commentors, inflammatory, defaming, threatening, or discriminatory comments will be deleted by the editor.  We encourage commentors to log in and use their real names or personal internet handles whenever they feel comfortable.

Reading Along

If you would like to have some background about the topics being discussed here on the blog, feel free to follow the reading outline for the class, which is found below.  This is only a draft and other reading materials will be mentioned as appropriate to the topics raised in the class.  In some cases, we may only read specific sections, chapters, or excerpts from the books mentioned below.  These will be noted as they are announced.  However, please don’t feel like you have to follow along exactly before voicing your opinion or sharing your experience.

Books (in the order of reading)

 

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